Author: Cris Cole
Writer’s Potential: 8
Logline:A depressed bird-watcher reconnects with his ex-girlfriend.
Synopsis:CAMERON and BISH, both in their mid-20s, wait in a parked car for NIKKO (also mid-20s), who’s getting dressed in the backseat. They admire a Masked Shrike in a magazine and discuss their plans to see one. Nikko puts on a shirt and tie, then gets out of the car. He’s in a cemetery, and he approaches a funeral already in progress. ELAINE, late 20s, Nikko’s sister, is crying so hard that she doesn’t notice; MIKE, her boyfriend, looks horrified and repulsed. He throws some dirt on the coffin and leaves almost immediately. As they drive to the north, Nikko explains in voiceover that he’s been bird-watching since age 13, when his mother bought him a pair of binoculars. They hike through rugged terrain, discussing girls, then make camp. They take out their bird lists, and Cameron asks Nikko what he plans to do when he gets to 500 on his list. Nikko avoids the question. After waiting a very long time, they realize they’ve been set up. As they angrily speed down a country road, Cameron stops the car because he’s spotted an American Kestrel. Nikko is now up to 497 on his list. They tick it off and keep going.
Nikko walks down a street in West London, complaining in voiceover about the gentrification of the neighborhood. He goes into an ungentrified, dilapidated house, where he scares the crap out of Elaine and Mike. Mike tries to throw him out, threatening to call the police, but Nikko reminds Mike that this was their mother’s house, and now that she’s dead, it belongs to both of them. Elaine snipes at Nikko for barely putting in an appearance at the funeral. Nikko, Bish, and Cameron get a tip that a white-crowned sparrow has been spotted, so they investigate, along with a bunch of other “Twitchers.” Bish sees a fat, baby-faced man, OWEN WHITTLE, and makes some disparaing comments about him. As Nikko watches, he sees STEVIE through his binoculars. She’s sexy, tattooed, pierced, dyed-black hair. He loses her — because she’s walked straight to him. She asks Nikko if he thinks the bird is going to show, but Nikko’s tongue-tied. Stevie harasses Bish for buying coffee at a certain shop, because they don’t buy from free traders. Bish responds with a barrage of obscenities. He drags Nikko away from Stevie, so she leaves.
Angry, Nikko ditches his friends and follows Stevie. She’s drawn an ibis, and Nikko compliments her on it, so she gives it to him, then walks away. At a London townhouse, Nikko cleans vigorously and explains in voiceover the usefulness of obsessive-compulsive disorder in a job cleaning houses. He’s so fast that he has time to screw around on the Internet. He sees a listing to protest the removal of London Peregrine Falcons. Nikko, Bish, and Cameron go to the protest in London. He sees Stevie, wearing a business suit and carrying a large designer bag. She walks into an office building, and Nikko follows. They take the elevator to the roof, and she begins tossing red paint bombs at the police cars below. A building security guard sees her and gives chase. Stevie out-maneuvers him and steals his radio. As she and Nikko run back downstairs, Stevie radios a phony location where she has been spotted. They go downstairs, run past the cops, protests, and confusion, and they go to a park to celebrate. Stevie unbuttons Nikko’s shirt, looks at the scars on his wrist, and registers her surprise that he tried to commit suicide without her.
Nikko and Stevie used to date, but when she left him, he attempted suicide, and they put him in a psychiatric assessment center. She mocks his improper incision, and Nikko gripes that his sister caught him, and he accidentally ended up cutting her and hit a major artery, so he couldn’t finish the job on himself. He asks her why she came to the bird-watching, and Stevie says she missed him and she found out about his mother and wanted to make sure he’s okay. She mentions Nikko’s plan to tick off 500 birds and then kill himself, and then speculates he’s around 50. Nikko says it’s 498, and she’s shocked.
At his mum’s old house, Nikko wanders around naked to the horror of Elaine, Mike, and the real-estate agent in charge of selling the house. He does it just to get a rise out of them, then sneaks a knife from the drawer…which he uses for his cleaning job. Stevie arrives at the house where he’s cleaning and harasses the owner, pretending to be surveying for the company. They go into the bathroom together and kiss. He sends her outside, and she waits for him. She asks him what the asylum was like. Nikko and Stevie go bird-watching together, and he explains some of the finer points to her. They sneak off and have sex in a wetlands habitat while twitchers wander around them, nobody quite catching them.
At a café, Cameron tells Bish he got a bonus but hasn’t spent it because he has nothing to buy. Bish sees Nikko and Stevie entering and is irritated. She asks about the food and annoys Bish by reminding everyone she’s a vegan. Bish orders a double-bacon sandwich with a side of bacon to bug her. They hear word that Owen Whittle is stealing endangered bird eggs again. This enrages Stevie, and they follow her to the woods, where she chases him and throws rocks until he falls out of a tree, getting pretty banged up. As a result, the eggs he stole get banged up, which enrages Bish. He gest into it with Stevie, who stomps off angrily; Nikko goes after her, leaving Cameron and Bish to awkwardly tend to Whittle.
Nikko follows Stevie home, where they have sex. They discuss how Stevie intended to commit suicide. She says it depends on what she wanted it to mean. Nikko doesn’t understand; he feels death is pointless. They suck some helium gas and laugh high-pitched laughs. Stevie asks how he knew it was helium; he says he didn’t, and when she asks why he inhaled it, he laughs, “Because you did.” This angers Stevie, who suddenly feels Nikko is just following her like a sheep.
Bish calls Cameron at work, pulling him out of a meeting. He calls Nikko; a Honey Buzzard has been spotted, which will bring Nikko to 499. Nikko doesn’t care. Bish picks up Nikko anyway, and Nikko keeps calling Stevie — who doesn’t answer — while Bish tries to convince him to drop her. They go to find the bird and find a bunch of other twitchers are already there. They argue with the others, but the bird is already gone. Nikko spots GARY COOPER, the guy who gave them the false lead about the Masked Shrike. He chases him and is about to beat him down when Bish pulls him away to tell him the buzzard’s gone.
Nikko goes to an art gallery. Stevie spots him there but goes to a different guy, enraging Nikko. He leaves. Next morning, Bish says the Honey Buzzard has been spotted again. They drive out to the country, where they’re stopped at the edge of the woods by a group of thugs claiming it’s private property. Nikko’s a little bit manic, doesn’t care about the fact that they’re toting shotguns. He pushes past them and sneaks through the woods. Nikko sees Owen Whittle in the woods, intending to steal eggs. He tracks Owen, but two thugs start chasing Nikko. He runs into a field, where the third thug tackles Nikko. Nikko gets away from them, then spots Owen’s car. He slashes the tires, then sees Owen coming from the woods. He spots a gun rack on the car and grabs one of Owen’s shotguns. Nikko tries to shoot, but the safety’s on. He can’t figure out how to release it. Owen gets in the car and starts driving, despite the flat tires. Nikko fiddles with the gun and it accidentally goes off, nailing the back of the Land Rover.
Nikko freaks out, hiding the gun in the bank of a stream, running like hell, then giggling maniacally. Stevie calls him; he doesn’t answer. At his mum’s house, Stevie shows up. She says the other guy was just a fear reaction. She doesn’t want to be responsible for Nikko doing anything crazy or killing himself. They have sex again, and Elaine and Mike find them in his mum’s bed. Stevie runs away, downstairs, where she finds Nikko’s phone blaring. She picks up, and Bish says Owen got shot. Nikko and Elaine have it out, while Stevie leaves in a huff because Nikko lied. Nikko calls Bish, who asks if he shot Owen. Nikko denies it.
D.C. THOMAS shows up, needles Nikko a bit about Owen. Nikko tries to meet with Stevie, but she ignores him. He has another manic flip-out, dousing himself with lighter fluid and trying to spark it — it doesn’t work. The next day, Bish and Cameron show up in a BMW Cameron bought with his bonus. They want Nikko to go with them to see a Crested Lark — 500 for Nikko. Cameron announces he’s taken a promotion, and Bish got in some trouble with the law and intends to return to Poland. Nikko admits he shot Owen, accidentally. The lark never shows up, which upsets Cameron, as they realize this will be their last bird-watching excursion together. Thomas shows up to ask Nikko if he has a cell phone; Nikko denies it, just as his phone rings. It’s Stevie; he doesn’t answer. Later, she shows up. Nikko confesses about Owen, but Stevie already knows. They get drunk and have more sex. Nikko fears prison or another asylum, would rather just end it, but he can’t. Stevie says she’ll help, mixing a concoction for him to drink. As he drifts into unconsciousness, he says he needs a note, but she says it’s been taken care of.
The next day, police burst in and find Nikko alive and Stevie dead. Thomas admits his surprise when he received Stevie’s confession of shooting Owen for his love. He agrees to give Nikko a second chance. Nikko feels this isn’t so much a second chance as a rebirth. He throws his bird-watching list into the river.
Comments:This is a solid dramedy about depressed people trying to make their way in the world. The characters are well-defined and consistent, the dialogue has a strong wit to it, and at its core, the theme of second chances/starting over is strong enough to be relatable despite Nikko and Stevie’s more unpleasant actions in the third act.
These actions constitute the script’s only major flaw. We understand that Nikko is depressed and was, at one time, suicidal. The writers never give us a true sense of the severity of his mental problems until he goes after Owen with a shotgun; although the actual death is accidental, he did intend to shoot the man, pulling the trigger without realizing the safety was off, and then feeling no real guilt — just a desire to confess to his friends — as D.C. Thomas aims his investigation straight at Nikko.
At the same time, the relationship Nikko has with Stevie doesn’t come across like the type of bond that’s so strong, she’d be willing to sacrifice herself to save him. Maybe it’s because she’s not quite as well-developed as the others — sure, she has a personality and her own set of quirks, but the question that hung in the air for most of the script is why, other than depression, these two got together. What makes their bond so strong? What makes her so willing, after threatening suicide for so long, to finally go through with it because now it has “meaning”? If the writers answered these questions satisfactorily, they’d have a truly outstanding script.
It’s a rather dark, existential dramedy that will probably appeal to the same people who enjoy films like Garden State or Wes Anderson’s oeuvre. Its British setting might draw in additional moviegoers in the U.S., but it will definitely bring in an audience in the U.K.